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Birmingham series showcases singer-songwriters
A musical excursion to Nashville during 2015 gave Steve Taylor an idea he wanted to bring home.
Attending songwriter showcases at Music City venues such as the Bluebird Cafe and the Listening Room inspired Taylor -- a singer-songwriter who graduated from Birmingham Groves High School and studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston -- to try the same thing in the Elm Room at The Bird & The Bread restaurant in Birmingham. He staged his first Songwriter Showcase during November of 2015 and has been going monthly ever since, offering exposure to both established and fledgling artists and their original material in an environment decidedly different than the noisey venues most tend to play.
"What I'm trying to do is bring that Nashville style of songwriter show to metro Detroit," explains Taylor, 43, who resides in Lake Orion with his wife and two young children. A former member of the Vudu Hippies, he plays in the local band the Corktown Popes and teaches music at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills.
"When I was in Nashville I was blown away by the emphasis there was on songwriters. There's been four songwriters on the stage playing original music, at fairly large places, and people would listen -- like, intently. It wasn't background noise. It was actually a show, and people were really paying attention."
Taylor acknowledges it took a minute to establish the concept with audiences back home. "The first few shows it was rough going. It was time to start and ther ewas nobody in the room other than the people who were performing," Taylor recalls. "Nobody knew what it was." But these days the showcases -- featuring four performances as well as Taylor -- are filling the Elm Room's 100-person capacity, and many come on a monthly basis.
And these patrons are as attentive as those Taylor sat with in Nashville.
"They're getting it," he says. "I do get up there and explain to people that it's not like a normal bar or a normal evening out. If you focus your attention adn pay attention to the lyrics and the songs and the songwriters' stories, you'll have a unique experience. And they are paying attention, and when they come back they know the format and know what to expect, and I thnk they look forward to it."
Lansing-based songwriter Mary McGuire, who took part in the December showcase, found it a pleasant alternative to other shows she's used to doing -- and a bit of a throwback to gigs that used to take place at the Spaghetti Company in Berkley and the Midtown Cafe in Birmingham.
"The audience was so warm and so wonderful and really there to listen -- which was a little awkward after you're used to playing in a club where it's not so quiet," McGuire notes. "It was really nice to see. I think (Taylor) is spot-on with this; It's in the right place and a good market for this kind of thing."
The artists, meanwhile, are as enthusiastic about hearing each other as the audiences. "I loved getting to hear the other people who were playing my night," McGuire says. "We're all usually working and doing our own shows, so you don't get to see other artists all that much. Taylor adds that, "I really like the community aspect of it, getting to meet people I've only heard of but haven't been able to get out and see play.
"It's great to get to see all these people in the same room. Connections get made, people learn about each other and maybe something good comes out of that, too."
Taylor's next showcase is on Thursday, Feb. 9, and he has monthly shows booked into June. He's also been approached by other venues contacting him about doing similar series; He held one recently at 20 Front Street in Lake Orion to accommodate visiting friend J.T. Harding, a Grosse Pointer who now lives in Nashville and has written songs for Keith Urban, Kenney Chesney, Uncle Kracker and more.
So Taylor is gratified the word is spreading and that his concept seems to have legs.
"As a musician things are so fractured now," he says. "Bars only want to deal with one band a night doing covers -- or karaoke. But I think a lot of people would rather sit and hear someone tell a story and play one of their songs than go to a sports bar and hear a bunch of covers we've heard 1,000 times. Those are the people I want to serve with this."
Songwriters Showcase with Brad Stuart, Carly Bins, Al Carmichael and Alison Albrecht, hosted by Steve Taylor
7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9.
The Elm Room in The Bird & The Bread, 210 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham.
Admission is $10.
Call 248-203-6600 or visit thebirdandthebread.com.
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